ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s government dismissed on Sunday a last-ditch U.S. call to end emergency rule, leaving the Bush administration with limited options in steering its nuclear-armed ally back toward democracy.
Pakistan said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte brought no new proposals on a make-or-break visit, and received no assurances after urging Musharraf to restore the constitution and free thousands of political opponents.
“This is nothing new,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq said. “The U.S. has been saying this for many days. He (Negroponte) has said that same thing. He has reiterated it.”
Locked in a battle with increasingly powerful Islamist militants, Pakistan is seen as a key front in the war on terror. U.S. officials are fearful that the emergency rule imposed more than two weeks ago could lead to a potentially destabilizing round of political turmoil.
In an early morning news conference before departing Pakistan, Negroponte said he hoped that the president listened to his appeal to end a crackdown on opponents before legislative elections.
“I urged the government to stop such actions, lift the state of emergency and release all political detainees,” Negroponte said. “Emergency rule is not compatible with free, fair and credible elections.”
But Musharraf has appeared intent on setting his own pace despite warnings from Washington, which has been hesitant to match criticism with actions such as cutting military aid.
Musharraf has said he would step down as army chief by the end of the month, but has insisted that he will serve out a five-year term as civilian president. He won the extra term in an October vote in parliament. The Supreme Court was set to rule on whether the vote was constitutional when Musharraf declared the emergency on Nov. 3, effectively purging the court. In addition, about 2,500 opponents have been jailed and independent TV stations taken off the air.
Musharraf has defended the moves, saying they are necessary as his forces struggle to combat an increasingly virulent Islamic insurgency. But opponents note that the vast majority of those targeted in the crackdown have been pro-Western moderates, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists.
Musharraf has insisted he would only lift the emergency if the national security situation improved, and he strongly hinted that such a move was unlikely before parliamentary elections scheduled to be held by Jan. 9.